Emma's observations from Bears-Bengals: Sean Desai showcases his defensive philosophy

As he promised, Desai put the Bears' best players in position to make plays Sunday.

CHICAGO (670 The Score) – The Bears held on for a 20-17 victory against the Bengals on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, with rookie Justin Fields taking over at quarterback for injured veteran Andy Dalton. Here are the observations from the Bears’ first victory of the season.

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Desai’s day
Since the Bears elevated Sean Desai to defensive coordinator in January, he has shared a simple philosophy: put playmakers in the best position to make plays.

On Sunday, Desai showcased what he meant. The Bears had the type of stifling defensive performance that has been their hallmark over the last four years, and Desai looked every bit the Vic Fangio disciple he was billed to be.

The Bears forced four turnovers, including making interceptions on three consecutive throws from Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. Desai kept scheming exotic pressures on Cincinnati’s poor protection, leading to four sacks of Burrow and nine registered hurries.

Desai’s most notable pressure design came in the first quarter, when the Bears lined up Akiem Hicks at the nose tackle position and pass rushers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn on the same side – a look that hadn’t been seen since Quinn was signed in March 2020.

Hicks drew only the center, while the left guard and tackle turned their focus to Mack and Quinn, who stunted across each other and created an opening. Quinn got to Burrow before Mack for the sack.

Early in the third quarter, linebacker Roquan Smith was disguised in coverage away from his usual place in the center of the Bears’ defense. Instead of dropping into coverage, he rushed clean off the edge and sacked Burrow, who couldn’t get rid of the football in time to beat the closing speed.

Desai also seemed to be daring Bengals coach Zac Taylor to be aggressive against the Bears’ defense, with Chicago's cornerbacks pressing up against the line of scrimmage as linebackers waited on the second level. On a third-and-3 situation early in the fourth quarter, Smith sat in a soft zone coverage and intercepted Burrow. He ran 55 yards to the end zone for a game-changing touchdown.

It was one of many examples of how Desai had the Bears’ best players in the right position to make big plays.

Monday Morning Quarterback
Following a home debut that left more to be desired, Fields was honest about his performance.

"I definitely think that I can play better,” Fields said. “I just think this is the beginning."

Though Fields would've been statistically more impressive if not for multiple drops, he'll be his own harshest critic come Monday morning. That’s when the film of the game will be waiting for him.

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Fields will be hard on himself. So for this exercise, I will be too.

For starters, Fields struggled on several occasions at the line of scrimmage – as evidenced by a pair of false start penalties called against him. In one instance, he was ready for a snap from center Sam Mustipher that never came his way, something Fields took the blame for.

Fields has gradually worked on commanding the huddle – articulating the play call and where all five skill players need to be – on a consistent basis, something that's normal for any rookie quarterback. Fields didn’t huddle at Ohio State, where the plays were called out for him on the sidelines.

Fields' most egregious mistake came with just under four minutes remaining in the game, when he was intercepted by Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson. It was a third-and-7 play for the Bears from their own 23-yard line.

Fields locked his eyes on receiver Marquise Goodwin, who was running a crossing route. He didn’t see that Wilson disguised his rush off the edge and dropped into coverage. It’s the type of mistake that young quarterbacks make and learn from.

Out to prove it
Anyone who has taken a red-eye flight from the West Coast can understand part of what Hicks felt last week. The Bears landed back at O’Hare around 5 a.m. on Sept. 13 following their 34-14 loss to the Rams in Los Angeles the night before.

The fatigue from that long flight was only part of the equation. Hicks and the Bears’ defense were physically and mentally beaten by the Rams’ offense, which posted 388 yards against them.

"That sat tough with everybody,” Hicks said of the feeling on that flight to Chicago. “Everybody wanted to come out and play their best game. As long as everybody remembers that feeling, we should be good."

The Bears used the motivation from their often embarrassing defensive performance in the opener and channeled it Sunday at Soldier Field.

A nod to Andy
Lost in the shuffle of Fields’ debut at Soldier Field was the performance of starter Andy Dalton, who was effective before leaving with his knee injury.

Dalton was 9-of-11 for 56 yards and a touchdown before leaving for good in the second quarter after his left knee buckled awkwardly on a scramble along the Bears’ sideline. He was efficient enough and inspired confidence if he does get the chance to return to the starting role.

It’s worth noting Dalton was the Bears’ emergency quarterback if Fields was to leave the field.

Extra points
-- Smith hasn’t been recognized league-wide as one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL, but he's out to prove it. On Sunday, he had a team-best eight tackles, a sack and a pick-six. That production came from a player who was left out of the Pro Bowl last season and didn’t make the NFL Network’s top 100 players list.

-- Bears safety Eddie Jackson read the headlines and heard the talk about him after a poor showing in the season opener. He responded with a strong performance Sunday that reminded of the player he has been in the past, producing four tackles, a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble.

-- By the letter of the law, Bears safety Tashaun Gipson deserved to be penalized for taunting in the first quarter, but it’s bizarre the NFL seems so concerned about preventing trash talk in the first place. Given that Gipson had just been penalized for clapping at his opponent, there was no excuse for Bengals safety Vonn Bell, who was flagged for taunting Dalton just moments after Gipson’s penalty. It helped get the Bears out of the shadow of their own end zone.

-- The most underrated play of the game came from Fields, who managed to recover his own fumble in the third quarter and save it from the grasp of Bengals pass rusher Trey Hendrickson, who looked to have a scoop-and-score coming.

-- Second-year cornerback Jaylon Johnson finally has his first career interception, with perhaps many more to come in time.

-- The Bears were retained veteran tight end Jimmy Graham for a second season despite his hefty salary cap hit. He has just one reception in two games and had no targets Sunday while playing 34% of the team's offensive snaps.

-- For the third time under Nagy's watch, the Bears responded to a primetime loss in their season opener with a Week 2 win.

-- A shoutout to my 670 The Score teammate Les Grobstein, who attended his 61st straight Bears home opener Sunday. He has seen more Bears home games than Soldier Field has.

-- After a 2020 NFL season played in empty stadiums, it was simply wonderful to see Chicago’s lakefront buzzing and Soldier Field filled with fans and anticipation.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Jon Durr/USA Today Sports